Just after the end of the Olympics where I watched many amateur athletes who had to sacrifice much for their sport I see the Quebec film Sarah Préfère La Course at Les Rendez-vous du Cinéma Québécois. It is about a young woman so single minded about her pursuit of running that she doesn’t allow anything to interfere. Things like having to move to participate on a university running team, changing her educational language, her mother being non-supportive, not really having the money to do it, and finally a potential physical problem don’t stop her. Timing is everything they say.
Sarah (Sophie Desmarais – Head in the Clouds, Heartbeats), a quiet, soft spoken and serious young woman, and her track and field teammates are in Sorel for a competition. She is not sure if after her last race it will be the end of running for her as her mother (Hélène Florent) isn’t exactly supportive. Sarah wins her race and manages to lower her time.
At home she tells her mother that the McGill track team has offered her a spot and she wants to go. Her mother is worried about the cost of Sarah moving to Montreal from Quebec City. Plus she doesn’t think running will do anything for her in the future.
Antoine (Jean-Sébastien Courchesne), a friend of Sarah’s, says he wants to leave and so he will pay the first few months rent for him and Sarah. She tells her mother and step father she is leaving for Montreal. On their drive to Montreal, Antoine mentions to Sarah that friends of his got married because the government gives money to new university attending couples so they should do it. At first Sarah refuses because she does not love Antoine, but then agrees. They get married in a civil ceremony. Sarah tells Antoine she will not wear her ring.
Sarah meets the track coach (Micheline Lanctôt – Les Invasion Barbares, The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz) and starts practicing with the team. Things seem to be going well at school and between her and Antoine.
Her friend from Quebec City Zoé (Geneviève Boivin-Roussy) has moved to Montreal as well. She is on the McGill track team also. Sarah and Antoine go to a party thrown by a teammate and Zoé is there. They drink and do some karaoke. Sarah seems affected while Zoé is singing. Just then she has some kind of attack. Antoine takes her to the hospital. They do some tests on her heart. The doctor tells her to avoid all stimulants including physical activity. Sarah continues to train with the team.
While in the shower after practice Sarah finds herself staring at Zoé. The next night she spends it with Antoine. They have sex on the kitchen floor. She is not really into it. The next morning Sarah tells Antoine that it’s not going to happen again.
Soon everything seems in jeopardy. Sarah and Antoine’s “marriage” as well as her running. The bottling up of her true emotions seems to have now affected her heart and has put her one true love – running – in jeopardy.
This is not your typical sports film with everything being heightened and big. Everything about Concordia graduate Chloé Robichaud’s (first feature film) film is understated. Sarah’s sexuality is hinted at, but it is never really resolved. There is humour though it is not the type that is even going to make you laugh out loud. The lead character does not even talk very much. Little things even colour (which is all white, beige and gray) lend to the overall tone of the film. Everything is muted though stylish. Though the slow pace might turn some off I thought that Robichaud’s film was great and showed her potential as a director. Robichaud has definitely aimed at making an indie film. With its silence, natural looking settings and minimalism she definitely follows the formula. Some are a bit tired, but for the most part she has made a film that is original and very watchable.
My only complaint would be that the film ended too soon. It seemed that the credits started just when the story really got going. I realize that Robichaud was purposely trying to make something that was not overly dramatic though there is something to be said for human trials and tribulations in all their messy glory.
We do explore sacrifice to get what you want. No sacrifice is seen as too big for this middle distance runner as running is like an addiction for Sarah. She even states that she can’t picture her life without running. Young actress Sophie Desmarais is all wide eyed, unblinking and quiet in portrayal of Sarah, a character she has layered with depth. She never makes it feel unrealistic or awkward while watching Sarah’s navigation through life and awakening to what is truly important to her. Some of the bittersweet moments of her life are really moving as a result.